Saturday, April 30, 2011

Johannes Brahms

Op 44 Four Songs for Women's Chorus

Cambridge Singers

John Rutter conductor

I was looking for something for Walpurgisnacht but found these instead.

This Looks Right [Anthony McCarthy]

att Honan at Mother Jones Magazine, has made a very useful flow chart that explains how the corporate right manages to turn their lies into common received wisdom.

How to Make Your Lie Go Mainstream in 26 Easy Steps

Looking through it a few times, applying it to lies they've managed to make into a temporary substitute for the truth, it has explained just about every one I've come up with.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Everybody Knows That Men Marry Looks And Women Marry Money And Why.

Yes. Everybody knows that men marry women with good looks and that women marry men with resources, and that this is because of what took place in the area of evolutionary adaptations a long time ago somewhere on the African savanna!

I hate stuff like that, because what "everybody knows" is not based on any actual evidence of the prehistoric origins of hypergamy for women but not for men. In other words, women want to marry "up" in terms of resources because that provides for their future children best. What the guy looks like is immaterial and how old he is is also immaterial! As evidence people argue that Rush Limbaugh has had several wives and he is ugly as hell.

What made me irritated enough to write about this again were the comments to a David Sirota article about gender differences in how obesity is treated in the US. He argues that men get a pass when it comes to societal disapproval of fat.

Alas, the article itself stirs me less than comments like this (to be found attached to Sirota's piece)*:
The reason fat men don't matter is simple and goes to our biology, women have to be beautiful and men have to be rich.
Cassie is unrepentant about dating rich men. “Of course it is much better to sleep with men with lots of money,” said the 27-year-old lawyer from London.
“Any girl who tells you different is lying. Rich men are powerful and successful and confident and charismatic. They know what they want, and they go out and get it. That translates to being fantastic in bed.”
Cassie is living proof of the latest scientific discovery about human sexuality: that the number and frequency of a woman’s orgasms is directly related to her partner’s wealth.
Her explanation is simple. “Women don’t want to lie back and think of the gas bill,” she said. “It’s a lot more fun to have sex in the Ritz than the Swindon Travelodge. And to be ripping off Rigby & Peller underwear than M&S knickers.”
Wealthy men give women more orgasms.

The study that is referred to is something I have discussed on this blog. But note that firm statement at the beginning of the comment about it all having to do with biology! Women go for money, men go for looks, and that is how it is.

You can prove it by looking at the orgasmic frequencies of women married to poor and rich men in China under its current capitalist turmoil which leaves some people with nothing but stress and heaps others with all they wish, and then you can find an anecdote (a lawyer!) to prove a point about "women" and "men" in general.

Biology. Where does the idea that these particular mating habits are biological come from? From evolutionary psychology (ep), naturally. But the story told there doesn't actually bear closer scrutiny very well:

Suppose that those prehistoric women did want to mate with men who somehow had more resources, just as the evolutionary psychologists of a certain stripe assume that men wanted to mate with women who had more resources in terms of youth and high fertility. What would those male resources have consisted of? The tribes in the hypothetical area of evolutionary adaptation were presumably nomadic. What wealth do nomads have?

It seems to me that any resources in those hypothetical days would have been embodied ones, for both sexes. A woman might have been more interested in a man who could hunt well, was healthy, young and still strong, just as a man might have been more interested in a young and healthy woman. I see no clear advantage in mating with an older man under those conditions if the advantage is to be viewed through the eyes of maximizing the likelihood that one has children AND that those children grow into adulthood in order to have children themselves.

So my evo-psycho theory would be that in a nomadic society of the type ep commonly specifies women would look for young and fit men. That is not Rush Limbaugh, and that is not marrying money. Can the incentives to marry money be explained in other ways?

I can think of at least two very obvious explanations, though they are intertwined.

First, women have traditionally not had the same opportunities to amass wealth as men have. Childbearing and child-rearing have handicapped women in this particular competition, societal norms about women's proper place (at home) have exacerbated the problem and, lest we forget altogether, laws everywhere tended to make sure that daughters couldn't inherit as much as sons, guilds excluded women from most trades and married women lost control of any property they had (and any income they earned) for the duration of the marriage.

All this left only one common way for women to better their social position: marriage. There's no need to assume that the desire to marry "up" is in women's genes when historical explanations suffice.

And even though the laws no longer restrict women from amassing wealth, the societal norms about child-rearing still do, general societal norms and myths change slowly and it is still hard in many countries for women to acquire wealth except through marriage. As long as women are, on average, poorer than men we are going to observe more female hypergamy than male hypergamy.

The second explanation is in some sense the same as the first one, though it looks at the situation from a different angle. Return to that hypothetical area of evolutionary adaptations and put your ep glasses back on. The story we are usually told is that men in those days struggled hard to get resources so that they could attract those young nubile Barbie-lookalikes for some dating and mating. Forget about the tribes being nomadic and pretend that the men wore backpacks with goodies inside them.

Only the most successful men got access to the Barbies, and, presto!, we have all descended from those alpha males, the ones with the heaviest backpacks.

And from those fairly mindless gold-digger Barbies.

That's how the story is written in the most inane ep versions (the ones I abbreviate to EP), and it is intended to explain, among other things, why men are so much more energetic, ambitious and creative than us poor women.

You see, almost all women got to pass their genes on without any struggle (no, pregnancy wasn't hard in those days, and in fact children popped out of the vulvas already fertile and ready for another round of mating right away, so the fact that women didn't compete at all or evolve very much was of no great consequence). But only alpha males got to pass their genes on!

How the EP guyz know that it was the alpha males whose genes they now carry I do not know. No woman has ever had a bit of nookie on the side, for instance, and no woman has ever been adulterous or exhibited any other mate choice except that for the imagined alphas of EP. (Who am I kidding? Even chimpanzee females mate with anyone they can get hold of when in heat.)

But I digress. To return to the second explanation, the EP story wants to stress how men have an incentive to climb the societal ladders but women do not. What they don't appear to see is that women do exactly the same when they marry money, that women show rather strong tendencies towards the very same kind of societal climbing that presumably underlies the reason why women don't need to scale those ladders. It is just that women have been limited in the tools they can use in furthering their social ambitions.

Would women marry for resources in a world where men and women earn roughly equal amounts and where child-rearing responsibilities are equally shared? I doubt it.

If I had to guess between the rather caricatured motives: looks vs. resources, I'd pick the former by a large margin in such a world. Women would choose their partners on fairly similar grounds to those men use. But of course neither men nor women mostly marry for looks or money but for much more complicated and, well, human reasons: Shared values, shared interests, friendship and kindness.

There. That is the post I wrote, instead of the one I planned to write on Sirota's article. Maybe later.
*For a second example in the same vein:
This 70's feminist version of society is all wrong
Men are judged by success, women are judged by looks. It's as simple as that. No man ever slept with a woman because of the car she drove, but women do that all the time. This is of course all romantic notions aside, just basic lust and status. Men and women are equally shallow, just about different things. Men are shallow about boobs and waists, women are shallow about status/comfort/wealth/success.
So the reason fat successful men don't care if they're fat isn't because of chauvinist culture, it's because they can still attract women based on their success, and they don't *have* to be as physically attractive to be successful in attracting the opposite sex. There's no chauvinism, oppression, or brainwashing involved. It's just the basics of how men and women work.
There ya go.

Today's Action Alert

From Catholics for Choice:
Catholics for Choice is issuing the Catholics for Choice Matching Gift Challenge to support the women of DC and assist the DC Abortion Fund (DCAF) in its critical work. Women in the District of Columbia need your help—and we’re asking you to give now as generously as you can. By participating in this challenge, your gift will mean twice as much.

As Catholics, we are called upon to speak up and show our compassion for the poor. Our faith guides our commitment to social justice, including reproductive justice. CFC condemns using the reproductive health of low-income women in Washington, DC, as a bargaining chip to reach a budget agreement. When Congress chose to prohibit the DC government from distributing its own local funds to pay for poor women’s abortions it made an unconscionable decision.
You can donate here, but hurry, as there's only one day left of the gift-matching project.

Friday Music: Carola Standertskjöld

I recently learned about this Finnish singer of the 1960s, and right now I am hooked, both on her musical and her linguistic skills. Let's begin with the latter:

Carola was born into an upper class Swedish-speaking Finnish family. Here she sings in Swedish:

She spent her childhood in Switzerland where her diplomat father was stationed. Whether she learned French there I don't know, but her French sounds very good indeed:

Her father was later transferred to Spain. Carola singing in Spanish:

Her English isn't too bad, either. If you watch the silly video, please watch until the very end! It's worth it.

And her Finnish, too, is perfect:

She died of early onset Alzheimer's disease fairly young but as far as I can tell the fame she deserved was not going to be something she would have achieved by living longer.

The music industry has many similar cases, of talented singers not making it. Very sad.

To finish with, here Carola interprets a Finnish folk song. I'm not certain if the words are traditional, too, but they are worth translating*:

I walked the edge of fields with the young gentlemen,
yeah, yeah, and I walked the edge of fields,
yeah, yeah, and I walked the edge of fields.
Now I think I feel a kick in my belly
yeah, yeah, and a kick in my belly
yeah, yeah, and a kick in my belly.

Well, the gentlemen they tell stories and stories
yeah, yeah, stories and stories
yeah, yeah, stories and stories.
They look you in the eyes and praise you unctuously
yeah, yeah, and praise you unctuously
yeah, yeah, and praise you unctuously.

And how can a girl know every single trick
yeah, yeah, and every single trick
yeah, yeah, and every single trick.
But she is the one who must bear the consequences,
yeah, yeah, and bear the consequences
yeah, yeah, and bear the consequences.

Then winter arrived and snow covered the ground,
yeah, yeah, and covered the ground,
yeah, yeah, and covered the ground.
And the gentlemen no longer want to walk me home
yeah, yeah, and walk me home
yeah, yeah, and walk me home.

They now bow and scrape to other young women
yeah, yeah, to other young women
yeah, yeah, to other young women.
But me they pass by with a haughty mien
yeah, yeah, and a haughty mien
yeah, yeah, and a haughty mien.

I walked the edge of fields with the young gentlemen,
yeah, yeah, and I walked the edge of fields
yeah, yeah, and I walked the edge of fields.
Now I walk with my child the narrow road,
yeah, yeah, and the narrow road
yeah, yeah, and the narrow road.

*A quick translation by me in which I took some liberties to give the flavor of the lyrics. I'm not sure if I got across that the "gentlemen" would be of a higher social class than the woman singing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Santorum's Stupid Comments. Nothing Changes.

Here he goes, in his desperate and vanity-driven drive for presidency, once again:
Santorum, a father of seven and a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, said he wrestles with balancing time with his family and the campaign trail as he explores a presidential bid, but his passion for repealing the federal health care reform law is part of what fuels his political aspirations. "I look at how society with socialized medicine treats children like Bella [his daughter, who was born with a genetic abnormality], and children like Bella don't survive," Santorum told The Des Moines Register today, the first leg of a three-day swing through Iowa. "Children like Bella are not given the treatment that other children are given." Santorum said the new health care law, championed by President Barack Obama, will mean disabled people are denied care more often, and repealing it is the best way to address mounting national debt.
How dare he? Where does he get the idea that children like his daughter don't survive in countries with socialized medicine? In Great Britain or Canada? And the US is not doing very well in international comparisons of infant mortality, either.

This is like that 2009 American interpretation of the chances that Stephen Hawking would have survived in one of those death panel countries:
In an editorial on July 31, Investor's Business Daily warned of end-of-life counseling in health care reform by saying people like Stephen Hawking "wouldn't have a chance" in the such a system.

People such as scientist Stephen Hawking wouldn't have a chance in the U.K., where the National Health Service would say the life of this brilliant man, because of his physical handicaps, is essentially worthless.

In fact, Professor Hawking lives in England, where he has been treated by their National Health Service. And by his own account, it saved his life.

And what about the United States of America? Santorum does admit that some problems exist:
Santorum said that disabled children are denied care today.
“It’s not like this isn’t happening now,” he said. “But it will happen more under a much more budgetarily-driven health care system.”

Budgetarily-driven? What does Santorum think private health insurance companies are? Charities? Suppose that you have child who needs 30,000 dollars worth of treatment every year? Will your insurance company just agree to pay for all of it or will their be all sorts of lifetime caps and other limitations, hmh? And what about a severely autistic child or young adult who really needs long-term residential care? Does the money for that care fall down like manna from heaven in this here great country?

No. The most expensive cases end up in the budgets of the states, in most cases, and what have we learned about the states, recently? They are cutting, cutting and cutting.

It is not the smearing of other health care systems that angers me so much about Santorum's inane statements, but the way the sufferings of Americans under the free-market-for-all-who-can-pay system are so minimized and belittled.

That is what angers me about all that death-panels crap. You don't have to have an explicit death panel if the price of care is set high enough. You don't have to have an explicit death panel if insurers decide whether your expensive cancer surgery will be covered. You don't have to have explicit death panels if states decide to solve their budget problems by no longer covering the care of the most expensive medical cases. But the outcome will be the same.

Why Worry About Inflation And Not Unemployment?

On one hand politics is a mess, a chaotic war all based on greed, fear, desire to do good and egotism. And other emotions. It's like a gigantic daytime television show but we are not allowed to call it that so we use sport and war metaphors to make it look properly serious.

But on the other hand some types of politics are extremely easy to interpret. For instance, almost all the political pressure right now is in the direction of protecting the rich: The famous Ryan budget proposal which slashes away at the heads of the poor and the elderly but offers tax cuts to the rich, and also the recent statements by Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman:
The Federal Reserve has two jobs, which is often referred to as a dual mandate. One is to maximize employment. Bernanke has testified that there are things the Federal Reserve can do, like buying assets through quantitative easing, that will result in job creation.
However, the Federal Reserve's other job is to maintain price stability and not let inflation spin out of control. The Federal Reserve does that through selecting an inflation rate -- what it calls targeting -- and doing what it takes to maintain that rate. The commodities that are increasing in price, especially oil for gasoline, are being driven by fundamentals, notably demand from China and emerging markets, which are out of the Fed's control. There is very low core inflation, which is inflation on everything other than commodities like oil and food. This core inflation rate is what the Federal Reserve targets, and right now it is lower than what the Fed has targeted.

So the Fed is doing neither of its two jobs. Unemployment is too high, and inflation too low, so it should be doing whatever it takes to stimulate the economy. The natural question that puts pressure on Ben Bernanke is: "Are you worrying too little about unemployment? And are you worrying too much about inflation?"
But if you got all your sense of the world from the questions that were asked during the press conference, you would expect that unemployment wasn't a major problem and crushing inflation was just around the corner.


Bernanke himself reflected these priorities. He cited keeping the financial sector from collapsing as the extraordinary measure the Federal Reserve has accomplished. He discussed current Federal Reserve efforts as something that will prevent a slow down rather than promote a faster recovery towards the long-term trend of growth. He seemed far more worried about inflation than about the current level of unemployment, and more worried about the Federal government's deficit than putting fiscal policy into play.
Why is the government worrying about the deficit, worrying about the future governments (over which it has no control) and why is the Federal Reserve worrying about non-existing high inflation? Why is nobody worrying about unemployment enough?

The easiest and most obvious explanation is not that we have somehow slipped into an alternative reality or that politicians are extremely incompetent but that they are doing what those with power wish them to do.

Unemployment does not hurt the well-off but inflation does, because it affects the value of fixed income sources, including interest income. The focus on government deficits instead of the current high unemployment stops looking so inexplicable when one understands that such deficits might require future tax increases which would affect the higher earners more. Unless government budgets could be cut.

But not defense! Because that's the one part the rich want to be kept as private armies are still too inefficient and inexpensive. Hence the cuts need to be in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, all programs which neither the wealthy nor most of the politicans will ever really need for themselves or their families.

I'm waging a class war here, all by myself! No, I'm not. And neither am I arguing that all wealthy people are evil or that all poor people are saints or that all the wealthy would agree on the pro-rich policies or that all the poor would be opposed to them. But if you strip the policy proposals to their bare bones, take out the bits which are technically required and the bits which are neutral, then what remains IS something very class-tinged. And it is a good explanation of the events I cannot otherwise decode.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Seen On The Street (by res ipsa)

This evening, outside the New York Public Library: Women in Black. Wanted to take a picture, but it seemed rude. There are some online, though.

Meanwhile, eight blocks up and two blocks over, Obama held a fundraiser. Bet NYPD wouldn't have let the Women get even remotely close.

On Birtherism

This is so obvious that I probably should not write it down, but the phenomenon of birtherism (Is Obama really a natural-born citizen and thereby eligible to be the president of the country?) is wholly and completely explained by looking at it from the reverse end:

Certain Americans find Obama just wrong as the president of the country. His skin color is wrong, his father is wrong, his mother is wrong, his father's initial religion is wrong, his step-father's religion is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Most of that is simple racism, though some of it may also be xenophobia. Whatever it is, the feeling of "wrongness" about the president must be justified, and the idea that he might not be formally eligible to be the president chimes beautifully with those inchoate feelings of his essential ineligibility. Hence the weird phenomenon of birtherism. It would legitimize those feelings of wrongness without the taint of racism.

Now Women Love Feminine Faces on Men!

What do women want? It's not only Freud who had trouble with that. Evolutionary psychologists cannot make up their minds, either. Jennifer linked to a new write-up in the UK Daily Male Mail about a study which found that in one of those glare-at-computer-simulated-faces-and-decide-which-to-mate-with women (presumably heterosexual women) went for men with "feminine" features:
Men with feminine faces will be luckier in love as more women are attracted to them than masculine men, according to a new study.
Most women prefer men with more feminine shaped faces and darker skin, according the research by psychologists at New York and Princeton universities.
But the investigation found that men typically also want women’s faces to be feminine with plump lips and wide eyes.

Two groups of men and women were shown a selection of thousands of computer-generated faces of the opposite sex to rate, which had been manipulated to look either more masculine or feminine.

The computer model tested 50 dimensions of facial features, including nose size, plumpness of lips and facial colouring.
The scientists found that more men want women’s faces to have a feminine shape, while women want men’s faces to have a feminine shape, but darker skin.

The first comment to the story tells us that this is not true when women are ovulating! Then they wish to mate with men with cracker jaws and bushy ear hair.

Just kidding about the jaw and the ear hair. What at least one study argues is that women pick more masculine faces as attractive when they are ovulating, though the rest of their cycles they go for feminine-faced guys.

It would seem that defining feminine and masculine features in isolation from everything else is rather tricky. For instance, are plump lips feminine everywhere on earth? Don't men have wide eyes? And to the extent that we can define masculine and feminine features in a laboratory setting, how does this translate to reality when most people's faces might belong somewhere along the dimension from one extreme characterization to the other, or where a person might have "feminine" eyes and a "masculine" mouth or the other way round?

Also, what if studies like these end up slipping a bit and in fact measure something else than femininity/masculinity of features? Youth, for instance? Youth sounds like a pretty good candidate for a different explanation of those findings, assuming that the studies were properly done, because young faces share quite a few so-called "feminine" characteristics.
This post is about the Daily Male Mail write-up, not about the initial study which I have not seen. It's the popularizations that will turn up at cocktail parties or at the bars and pubs, not people who have read the studies and all the relevant literature, and that's why I write about the former.

On Rolls-Royces

You are gonna love this! When I mentioned to a friend recently that this here blog is not a BIG blog and never will be, he said that the market for Rolls-Royces is tiny, too. I choose my friends well as you can see!

I think the Phantom will serve as The Car of this blog. Feel free to send me one, naturally.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Read This And Then Go Bang Your Head Against the Garage Door

From Daily Texan:
In 1967, 26-year-old attorney Sarah Weddington joined forces with the Women’s Liberation Movement and took on one of the most perpetually controversial Supreme Court cases in American history — Roe v. Wade.
She was the first woman to represent Austin in the Texas Legislature and the first woman to hold the title of General Counsel to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She served in the White House as an adviser to President Jimmy Carter before coming to UT to teach in 1988.
And how is she doing now? She is losing her teaching position due to budget cuts:
After 23 years at the University and more than a dozen state and national leadership awards, UT officials told Weddington, an adjunct professor in the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies, that she would no longer have a job at the end of the spring semester.
Weddington said she was aware of the looming budget crisis but was surprised to hear her position was in jeopardy.
“I always thought that tenure for me was not that important because I thought as long as you were really good at what you do and did a lot to work with your students, you’d be OK,” she said. “Now I know I was wrong.”
Do a gender reversal (or reverse her to an anti-feminists) here and ask yourself if the same would have happened to a man (or an anti-feminist) as famous as she is. Perhaps, but I doubt it. Though he might not have assumed that all would be well if he just did his job really well. There's lots more to academic politics than that.

Still, I find all this a disgrace.

In Praise of Hell

The conservative boyz in New York Times' stable of columnists, Douthat and Brooks, went wild over this Easter on the reasons why old-fashioned religion is Good For You! By "old-fashioned" I mean the sort of religion where sinners end up eternally barbequed in a hell staffed with demons wearing horns, and also the sort of religion where adulterous women will be stoned to death. It's good stuff, Douthat and Brooks both agree. You see, it keeps the masses under control.

Douthat's piece is the one that has been extensively discussed because of comments like this:
Doing away with hell, then, is a natural way for pastors and theologians to make their God seem more humane. The problem is that this move also threatens to make human life less fully human.
Atheists have license to scoff at damnation, but to believe in God and not in hell is ultimately to disbelieve in the reality of human choices. If there’s no possibility of saying no to paradise then none of our no’s have any real meaning either. They’re like home runs or strikeouts in a children’s game where nobody’s keeping score.
In this sense, a doctrine of universal salvation turns out to be as deterministic as the more strident forms of scientific materialism. Instead of making us prisoners of our glands and genes, it makes us prisoners of God himself. We can check out any time we want, but we can never really leave.
Douthat's religion would give us the choices of eternally singing hymns in white nightgowns or of being one of the dishes in that eternal hellish barbeque. The rules of how to get the entry ticket into either place? Consult the ancient nomadic patriarchs and their writings! A rigged game, I think, and still played in the prison of Douthat's god.

But then I'm not qualified to write about religious doctrines, being a goddess. Douthat seems to think that he is qualified to interpret what it means when people say that they believe in a divinity but not in a hell, and that interpretation is like a children's game. Hence my hunch that he is ultimately writing about the best ways to keep the masses under control. Pitchforks, flames and the chance of spending eternity with people like George Bush might do it.

Brooks writes on a related topic: How only the doctrinal, literal and traditional religions keep people under proper control. He starts his piece about a Broadway production set in Africa, "The Book of Mormons", and then deplores the waffly new-age Christianity for its feel-good message:
This warm theme infuses the play with humanity and compassion. It also plays very well to an educated American audience. Many Americans have always admired the style of belief that is spiritual but not doctrinal, pluralistic and not exclusive, which offers tools for serving the greater good but is not marred by intolerant theological judgments.
The only problem with “The Book of Mormon” (you realize when thinking about it later) is that its theme is not quite true. Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.


But it’s worth remembering that the religions that thrive in real-life Africa are not as nice and naïve as the religion in the play. The religions thriving in real-life Africa are often so doctrinaire and so socially conservative that they would make Pat Robertson’s hair stand on end.

I was once in an AIDS-ravaged village in southern Africa. The vague humanism of the outside do-gooders didn’t do much to get people to alter their risky behavior. The blunt theological talk of the church ladies — right and wrong, salvation and damnation — seemed to have a better effect.
Note that "socially conservative" phrase. It means that lesbians and gays get the death sentence and that women get to submit themselves to men. Order has been imposed on the chaos of modernity. Except that modernity is the wrong comparison in the example Brooks proposes. The proper comparison is to complete chaos, where only the powerful rule.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Who Cares About The Royal Wedding And Why?

Women care about the royalty and their lives more than men do. In Great Britain, for example:
Britain is a nation made up of moderate monarchists and reluctant republicans, according to a Guardian/ICM poll. More people are looking forward to an extra day off work than watching the royal wedding – but support for the monarchy has nonetheless climbed notably since the crisis following Princess Diana's death. The country is in no mood for a revolution.
The poll shows a large majority think the monarchy is still relevant to national life, makes Britain more respected around the world and is better than any alternative. But there seems to be tolerant scepticism rather than royalist hysteria around the wedding itself.
Only 37% agree that they are genuinely interested in the wedding, while 46% say they are not. Women are much more likely to be interested than men, and only 18% of all people questioned say they are strongly interested in the event.
Even so, 47% agree they will probably watch it on television this Friday, including a majority of women and people aged 18-24. Almost the same proportion, 49%, say they are more excited by the idea of an extra bank holiday than the wedding – only 31% disagree.

To care about princess Diana* and her life is viewed as silly and frivolous, and that's because it is women who are more interested in her. To care about the wedding of prince William to Kate Middleton (yes, I had to Google the names) is viewed as even more frivolous and silly, and that, too, is because women are more interested in it than men.

At least those are my impressions. So why would some women be very interested in queens or princesses without any real power, on their lives and especially on their weddings? Is it just some "inexplicable" aspect of femininity, like worrying about fashions or fat?

My theory is as follows: Princesses and queens show us the ultimate rewards for women in the traditional (old-old-old) patriarchal system. These are the women who obeyed the rules and got on top! These are the women who were judged on those patriarchal criteria of looks, charm and polite behavior, and they were not found wanting! Their reward is love, fame, celebrity and wealth. They won.

It's not just this that would make the royal wedding interesting to many. It's also the pomp and circumstance, the curiosity about the customs and manners of those life has set apart as "our betters", and it's the echoes which rise from the fact that ordinary people have been to other weddings, know what this ceremony means, and the fact that all is supposed to be happy on that day.

But none of that can explain the strength of the past interest women showed in the lives of royalties and also the royalty-like movie stars of the 1930s and 1940s Hollywood. That interest is based on something deeper, and I believe that it is the power some women gained without kicking against the system.

It seems like this interest is waning now. That, too, would support my theory, because women have other avenues to power and are not as dependent on the few female role models of the past which both "won" and were still regarded as good women: Princesses, actresses, female singers and ballerinas. Those women didn't take jobs from men, didn't have to act "masculine", didn't have to march to get their rights, but they still ended up adored and wealthy (though until the 20th century only "princesses" in that list avoided the possible label of a woman with loose sexual manners).

On the other hand, what is it that little girls seem, once again, to be emulating in their play? Cinderellas and ballet dancers. I believe that the reasons for those choices (by their parents and the toy industry and the society) are the same old ones: Here are role models for girls which apply even in a world of gender inequality, yet don't truly alarm more egalitarian parents. Those role models are not that different from the models given to boys: football players, space heroes, characters with gigantic muscles and super-powers. That they are fewer and more anemic goes with the territory of gendered expectations.

Sure, children grow past those types of toys, and they even grow past the gender-policing stage. But perhaps something remains, something which is then evoked by a royal wedding in women or a football game in men.
*The story about princess Diana is more complicated and has feminist and quasi-feminist aspects to it. I'm not addressing those here but simply pointing out that her initial attraction was in the Cinderella-story, despite her roots in the British nobility.

Poor Jane's Almanac

Jill Lepore has written an interesting article on the sister of Benjamin Franklin, Jane Mecom. It has shades of Virginia Woolf's piece on Shakespeare's imaginary sister and why she would never have become famous even with the same talents, but it is even more cleverly linked to the current focus on the Founding Fathers and the idea that the world then was the perfect one, the world into which we should all return, that giving money to the poor is bad for their morals and morale and that letting the rich keep their money is, for some reason, good for their morals and morale.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Martin Luther King, Easter Sermon April 21, 1957

Looking around for something for Easter I found this pdf of The Reverend Martin Luther King jr.'s Easter sermon given in 1957. I was six when he gave it. It was the world of full blown American apartheid, in which violence was a tool of racial terror, in which young children were murdered by racists. It's good to remember that experience is well within living memory.